Take an evening stroll through any busy entertainment district in Japan and you'll probably come across the aroma of yakitori and the sound of laughter, coming from establishments crowded with people pouring each other saké and eating yakitori. This is a common scene in any town or city.
Yakitori is a dish of grilled, bite-sized pieces of chicken on bamboo skewers. The chicken is grilled with a soy-based glaze containing sugar and mirin cooking saké or with salt. It is similar to the lamb shish kebab of the Middle East, or the chicken (or goat) satay of Indonesia.
One feature of yakitori is that all parts of the chicken, including the organs and tail meat, can be used, not just the thigh and breast. With these different meaty textures, lightly charred and flavored with a fragrant sauce or salt, everything goes down easily, and one ends up polishing off quite a lot. Yakitori is very popular, not only in specialty restaurants but also in pubs and roadside stalls. Nowadays, you can buy yakitori in supermarkets, already prepared for eating at home.
After Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 7th century as a state religion, a number of edicts were issued prohibiting the eating of meat. Meat, including chicken, was therefore not cooked or eaten in public until the prohibition was lifted in the second half of the 19th century. Beginning at that time in the Meiji period, yakitori was served in roadside stalls and contained leftover meat from restaurants. It soon became quite popular.
became a common dish in the 1960s after broiler chickens were imported from the United States and raised in large numbers in Japan. The birds grow quickly and are suitable for meat. Later, as the Japanese palate became more discerning, a growing number of yakitori
outlets began serving local varieties of chicken, such as the hinai-dori
of Akita Prefecture and hyuga-dori
of Miyazaki Prefecture. Today, restaurants keep trying to develop new techniques to get an edge over the competition. For example, they may use an expensive charcoal called binchotan
, which is ideal for charbroiling.
If you don't have charcoal when making yakitori at home, place the grill on a gas or electric stove. You'll find it easier if you coat the grill with oil, to prevent sticking. You could also use a frying pan or other utensil normally used for barbecuing or frying meat.
The chicken can be grilled with a glaze or a sprinkling of salt, whichever you prefer. It is also delicious with black pepper, lemon juice or shichimi-togarashi (a ground spice mix of cayenne pepper, dried orange peel and five different seeds).
Unlike beef or pork fat, chicken fat is concentrated in the skin, so chicken is a low-fat source of protein if the skin is removed.
This meal was prepared by Saido Taichi, the head chef and manager of a yakitori restaurant called Kushihachi. The restaurant was founded 30 years ago and is in the Roppongi district of Tokyo, where many embassies are located. The restaurant has a distinctively international atmosphere, and about three-quarters of the customers come from overseas.